Entanglement, autonomy and the co-production of landscapes: relational geographies for free-roaming ‘feral’ donkeys (Equus asinus) in a rapidly changing world

For thousands of years, the donkey (Equus asinus) has played an essential role in human society, underpinning the earliest forms of civilisation, facilitating critical trade networks, contributing to agricultural development, construction and mining. However, with the rise of motorised transport and agricultural machinery, the donkey was gradually turned loose in many places, and left free to roam. The emergence of freeroaming donkey populations has brought novel challenges for conservationists, land managers and animal welfarists alike. As non-native species that live and breed independently in large numbers, free-roaming donkeys appear as an ambiguous indeterminate group of wild-domestic creatures that sit uneasily with rapidly changing landscapes, societies and economies. This paper explores the status of free-roaming donkeys and the ongoing tension between the wild and the domestic, including the binary thinking underpins it and produces donkeys as non-native or ‘out of place’. Using a relational approach and paying attention to the various ways in which freeroaming donkeys are entangled and embedded within cultural historical landscapes, this paper suggests how donkeys might be re-examined in terms of their ‘entangled autonomy’, building on recent interventions in ‘wild’ animal geographies and ‘feral’ political ecologies. In doing so, it reframes the debate around the status of freeroaming donkeys and posits an argument for how they might be considered to ‘belong’ or have legitimacy within these landscapes, suggesting that more attention needs to be given to the spaces and places that donkeys create or contribute to, as well as those they disrupt and challenge.

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